BY JACOB MILLIS
Japanese Pro Wrestling (Puroresu) is a different animal compared to the American stuff. In general, it’s much more hard-hitting and realistic. The biggest jump in this realistic evolution of puroresu came in the mid 80’s when a group of wrestlers would form the UWF. UWF focused exclusively around matches with catch wrestling and some kickboxing (called Shoot Style), without all the crazy moves and gimmicks that are commonplace in pro wrestling. This led to the creation of other companies like Pancrase, RINGS, and BattlArts as time went on.
Worked Shoots in pro wrestling (AKA Shoot Style) is in one one way or another responsible for all Japanese MMA and is pro wrestling in its purest form. Sure, the results are predetermined, but you won’t see any top-rope moonsults, chokeslams or walking cartoon characters from “Parts Unknown” here. You will, however, see real men with legit grappling ability showing you some of the most thrilling matches, real or fake, that you will ever see. This is the top ten worked shoots in Japanese pro wrestling!
10. Alexander Otsuka vs Daisuke Ikeda (BattlArts 5/11/97)
We kick off with this doozy from BattlArts. Now BattlArts tended to have a little bit more puroresu influence than the other Shoot Style organizations at time, but is still firmly shoot style. This match was bonkers! With Otsuka (Who hardcore fans may remember from PRIDE) suplexing Ikeda all over the ring and Ikeda beating the snot out of Otsuka with lariats that put Stan Hansen to shame.
9. Masakatsu Funaki vs Minoru Suzuki (UWF 4/15/90)
If this was judged purely on realism, This would be number one no doubt. Funaki & Suzuki were so far ahead of their time in MMA, submission wrestling, and Puroresu, that it’s like they came from a future when all weapons have been replaced by catch wrestling, and Funaki & Suzuki have been sent back in time to stop a renegade member of their elite killing squad (Ken Shamrock).
These two legends would go on to form the second modern MMA organization, Pancrase. However, if you watch this match followed by their bout from Pancrase, I bet you will have a hard time telling real from work.
Hit the jump for the rest of the top ten worked shoot-fights!
8. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Koji Kanemoto (UWFi 10/28/1995)
Kazushi Sakuraba needs no introduction, He’s one of the greatest MMA fighters in history and many know that he started out as a pro wrestler but not that many have seen any of his his matches. Here’s a great place to start, As Saku has an all out war with puroresu legend Koji Kanemoto. This took place during a storyline when UWFi tried to invade NJPW (WCW stole this and made NWO) to prove their “real” pro wrestling was superior to the “fake” stuff of NJPW.
It did not turn out so good for the UWFi and would start a series of events that would lead to them closing but the feud had many fantastic matches like this one. Saku and Koji exchange holds, showing some amazing counters and Koji even honors the time-honored Puroresu tradition of trying to kill his opponent.
7. Vader vs. Nobuhiko Takada (UWFi 20/4/95)
This is perhaps the most important fight in shoot style history as it was the final in a tournament to crown the first “real pro wrestling champion”. Vader is well known all over the world and had left a path of destruction in UWFi, Crushing all in his way. Takada should be known by most MMA fans as the public face of PRIDE FC and was without question one the biggest stars in puroresu history. The normally quiet crowd is on fire the whole time as their hero tries to topple the unstoppable Vader.
6. Volk Han vs Akira Maeda (RINGS 1/25/1995)
Here we have the first meeting between human pretzel maker, Volk Han, and legendary badass Akira Maeda. Maeda is gangster on a level that the human mind can’t comprehend. He broke Riki Choshu’s orbital bone, picked a legit fight with Andre the giant and ruined any chance of the original Tiger Mask had of having cubs one day when he punted Sayama in his lil’ Tiger.
This match has every hold, counter and reversal ever invented and even a few new ones. Maeda and Han had many matches with each other but, as is common, the sequels don’t compare to the original.
5. Sakuraba vs Tamura (UWFi 1/3/1996)
If I wanted to, I could have filled this whole list with Tamura matches. In worked shoots, Tamura is the best pro wrestler ever and a fantastic MMA fighter. This battle launched a professional and personal rivalry between Tamura and Saku that would last over a decade. Great on every level from action to storytelling, this match has the greatest grappling sequence in the history of the cosmos.
4. Volk Han Vs Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (RINGS 7/16/1996)
Behold! The greatest leg lock battle ever! Volk Han, The Sambo servant vs TK, Judoka, Catch Wrestler and elbower of Fedor. TK is probably the best Japanese Heavyweight in MMA history (It’s a short list) and in this absolute classic, TK and Volk display incredible ways to rip the human leg from it’s body. These two had many tremendous matches but the first one is the best (notice a pattern with these sequels?).
3. Akira Maeda vs Masakatsu Funaki (UWF 4/5/90)
Man oh man, What can I say about this one other than it’s freaking awesome! Maeda was on top of the world and Funaki was the young stud, Who had established himself as the next generation but UWF was torn apart by internal arguments and would disband just a few months later but before that we would get one of the best pro wrestling matches ever, In this classic encounter.
2. Nobuhiko Takada vs. Kiyoshi Tamura (UWFi 2/14/93)
What do you get when the two greatest shoot stylists face off in a 1 on 1 match? I’ll tell you, Absolute epic win! Takada was by far the biggest star in UWFi but Tamura was their young ace. The match is pure gold with the two working the crowd the whole way while displaying some fantastic grappling and Takada showing some brutal kicks.
And the number one worked shoot-fight is… *drum roll*
1. Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (RINGS 6/27/98)
It couldn’t be anything else. Nerd told me that he expected this one and I’m never one to disappoint (NOTE FROM THE NERD: It’s true, it is my personal favorite worked shoot!). Tamura and TK were the two biggest Japanese stars in RINGS at this time and Maeda was getting ready to retire soon. TK and Tamura would have not only the best match (real or worked) in RINGS history but possibly the best pro wrestling match ever.
In half an hour, these two artists painted a puroresu Picasso with striking, Wrestling, Judo, BJJ and everything in between. Real or not, this match truly displays Mixed Martial Arts to its fullest.
Well that’s it! I hope you enjoyed these fantastic matches. Until next time, Keep watching the sky’s!
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